Gucci apologises for 'racist' women's balaclava jumper

The brand pulled the offending item from stores just one day after being declared the world's most searched-for fashion label

A similar item on the runway at Gucci's autumn/winter 2018 show. Courtesy of Gucci
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On Monday, it was revealed as the world's most coveted fashion label, but just hours later, Gucci was forced to scramble into PR mode after outrage bubbled over a jumper from its latest collection.

The luxury Italian brand has pulled a black knitted turtleneck from its stores – both online and physical – after the item garnered an outpouring of criticism on social media for its "racist" appearance.

The "balaclava jumper", which retailed for $890 (Dh3,269), featured a neckline that sat over the wearer's nose, with a cut-out around the mouth lined in red.

The item was likened to "blackface" by commenters on Twitter and Instagram, with many noting the ill-timing given that February marks Black History Month, an annual tribute which recognises the achievements, heritage and struggles of African-American men and women.

The jumper was part of Gucci's autumn/winter 2018 collection, and can no longer be found on the label's official website, though it still appears for sale on e-tailer Spring.

In response to the widespread criticism, the brand issued a statement on its Twitter account, apologising for any offence caused. "We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make," Gucci posted on Thursday.

"We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organisation and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond."

The row unfolded on social media just one day after Gucci was declared the world's most searched-for fashion label.

In the latest instalment of The Lyst Index, a quarterly ranking of the globe's trending brands based on the online shopping behaviour of more than five million users a month, the Italian label came out on top.

Lyst reports that Gucci usurped Off-White thanks to its accessories collections, with six million shoppers searching for a Gucci bag, belt, or shoe from October to December. Off-White and Balenciaga came in at second and third place respectively on the index, with Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana rounding out the top five.

Gucci is not the first fashion brand to be party to claims of racism, with Prada removing keychains and storefront figurines that evoked comparisons to blackface from stores in December. Dolce & Gabbana also issued an apology last November, after releasing a video showing a Chinese model using chopsticks to try to eat Italian food. The brand subsequently postponed a catwalk show in Shanghai, while Chinese e-commerce sites removed Dolce & Gabbana products from their listings.